Thawley returning for PM&C post to 'get good things done'

By Tom Burton

October 31, 2014

Michael Thawley
Michael Thawley

The Commonwealth’s new public sector leader has told The Mandarin he wants to “get a lot of good things done”, as the Prime Minister signals a shift in the way the bureaucracy operates.

Tony Abbott announced yesterday former United States ambassador Michael Thawley is to replace Ian Watt (pictured) as head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Thawley is currently an executive of Capital Research and Management Company and of Capital Strategy Research, investment management businesses based in Los Angeles.

It’s the boldest attempt by Abbott to broaden the DNA of Canberra’s relatively insular bureaucracy. It’s expected another financial markets player and former public servant John Fraser will be announced as Martin Parkinson’s replacement at Treasury later this year.

In June, Abbott shifted Jane Halton from Health to replace David Tune as head of Finance. Her influence is already being felt, with Finance reasserting its role as the key architect around the shape and organisation of the APS.

Their appointments come at a time where there is a major change in thinking around public sector delivery. Rather than having government agencies actually carry out the function there is a push to open up delivery to outside providers to find innovative solutions. Contestabilty is being adopted in the United Kingdom as a way of getting better and more effective solutions to community problems.

Speaking to The Mandarin from Washington DC, Thawley says he’s excited to be returning to the public sector.

“One of the reasons I am coming back is that I really enjoyed my previous time in the public service.”

“One of the reasons I am coming back is that I really enjoyed my previous time in the public service,” he said.

“I always felt we had a strong sense of purpose and so many opportunities for both the enjoyment and intense satisfaction which comes from working with a group of people to make something happen — opportunities that may be are not so common elsewhere — and so important to the future of our country.

“Our public service is widely respected in the world and highly professional so I am proud to re-join my colleagues and hope very much — indeed plan — with them to get a lot of good things done.”

Thawley was former prime minister John Howard’s international relations adviser and was appointed by Howard as ambassador to the US. He served in Washington during 9/11 and was closely involved in Australia’s subsequent engagement in Afghanistan where he built strong relations with the then-Bush administration.

He is well respected by both sides of politics and worked closely with Paul Keating when he was Prime Minister to strengthen the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation organisation.

Since leaving government he has worked with the Capital Group. The firm is a strong research-focused, evidence-based company working on long-term trends.

Thawley works from the DC office using his strong understanding of international relations and access to key administration officials to support the company’s intelligence gathering efforts.

Ian Watt’s departure had been speculated since the new government was appointed a year ago.

More at The Mandarin: ‘A wonderful experience’ — Watt’s resignation letter to his departmental colleagues

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